Cow parsley displays characteristic rows of ‘white lace’ along roadside verges in spring and was once used in food and medicine.
However, a danger of using this plant as a wild edible is its close resemblance to hemlock (Conium maculatum), a far deadlier species – poisonous and not to be used in food or medicine.
Botanical description of cow parsley
Small, white flowers appear in umbrella-like clusters upon tall, slightly hair, hollow stems. The large, pale green to reddish leaves are slightly downy. The unripe fruits are green and turn brown to reddish as they ripen. Thick roots reach up to 2m beneath the earth allowing this plant to spread far and wide.
Native to Europe, north Asia, north and east Africa, India subcontinent; naturalised in North America, Alaska, Canada, New Zealand, and central and southern Africa.
Habitat and distribution
Cow parsley is found growing along roadsides, hedgerows, waste places, woodlands, and meadows, forests.
Parts used for food
Leaves, stems and roots.
A perennial, flowering April to June.
Food uses of cow parsley
Cow parsley is closely related to chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) with a mildly spicy flavour. The leaves can be used fresh, dried or preserved in salt for future use. The plant makes an excellent garnish in place of chervil for salads, potatoes and egg dishes. Fresh or dried cow parsley can be sprinkled as seasoning in soups, omelettes, casseroles, potato and bean dishes. The young leaves can be cooked as a potherb and the roots are also edible.
Nutritional profile of cow parsley
Research suggests that cow parsley demonstrates strong antioxidant activity and could have potential as a future health food or supplement.
Cow parsley recipes
Herbal medicine uses of cow parsley
Thanks to its poisonous lookalikes, cow parsley was seldom used as a medicinal plant. When it was used as a remedy, this was often for kidney or urinary stones.
The plant’s hollow stems were once used as moulds to make candles for the poor.
The roots contain toxic compounds that could be dangerous if taken during pregnancy, when breastfeeding, or when used for specific complaints in certain sensitive individuals. Seek medical advice before use.
I will state again as it is of the utmost importance, the greatest danger of using cow parsley as a wild edible is its close resemblance to deadly hemlock.
Do not pick hemlock by mistake – the consequences could be dire! Make sure you know how to identify your wild edibles.
Ecology & entomology
Humans are not the only species that benefit from cow parsley, which is why it is important to learn to forage sustainably. The following critters also need the plant:
- Agonopterix curvipunctosa (moth)
- Agonopterix purpurea (moth)
- Aphis brohmeri (aphid)
- Aphis fabae (aphid)
- Autographa bractea (moth)
- Autographa jota (moth)
- Autographa pulchrina (moth)
- Byturus ochraceus (beetle)
- Cavariella aegopodii (aphid)
- Cheilosia pagana (fly)
- Chrysolina oricalcia (beetle)
- Cnephasia asseclana (moth)
- Cnephasia genitalana (moth)
- Cnephasia incertana (moth)
- Cnephasia stephensiana (moth)
- Depressaria albipunctella (moth)
- Depressaria sordidatella (moth)
- Depressaria sordidatella (moth)
- Dysaphis anthrisci (aphid)
- Dysaphis crataegi (aphid)
- Dysaphis hirsutissima (aphid)
- Epermenia chaerophyllella (moth)
- Eupithecia tripunctaria (moth)
- Eupithecia virgaureata (moth)
- Gymnoscelis rufifasciata (moth)
- Idaea dimidiata (moth)
- Kiefferia pericarpiicola (gall midge)
- Lasioptera carophila (gall midge)
- Liparus coronatus (weavel)
- Lixus iridis (weevil)
- Macrosiphum gei (aphid)
- Mesotype didymata (moth)
- Phaedon tumidulus (beetle)
- Phytoecia cylindrica (beetle)
- Phytomyza chaerophyll (leaf miner)
- Psila rosae (fly)
- Trioza apicalis (psyllid)
- Xestia triangulum (moth)
- Allen, D. E. & Hatfield, G. (2004) Medicinal plants in folk tradition: an ethnobotany of Britain & Ireland. Portland: Timber Press.
- Antal, D. (2010) Medicinal plants with antioxidant properties from Banat region (Romania): a rich pool for the discovery of multi-target phytochemicals active in free-radical related disorders. Analele Universitatii din Oradea, Fascicula Biologie. TOM XVII.
- Couplan, F. (1998) The encyclopedia of edible plants of North America. New Canaan: Keats Pub.
- Wyse Jackson, P. (2013) Ireland’s generous nature: the past and present uses of wild plants in Ireland. St. Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden Press.